Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review - Proof

Dr. Lilly Reeves has learned to take care of herself. Despite her childhood issues, she is a successful ER doctor who has a black belt and is a good shot. Unfortunately, she still becomes the victim of a serial rapist who manages to break into her apartment and drug her.

Detective Nathan Long has been working the case and thanks to Lilly he is able to finally catch the bad guy. Until the DNA tests point to a different man.

Now Lilly and Nathan face professional and personal challenges from the supposed mistake in identification. The question becomes can they figure out the answer before the criminal strikes again, or before he targets Lilly for knowledge she may carry?

This is the premise for the debut novel of Proof by Jordyn Redwood. As a pediatric ER nurse by day, Jordyn has the medical qualifications to weave a taut suspense within the world of health care. That's exactly what Proof is.

The scenario that she conjures is scary and real, making the book an intense read. She sets up the mystery in the first chapter, and the twists and turns continue until the final pages. There is plenty of danger, action, and medical setting to satisfy readers of medical thrillers, mysteries, and typical suspense.

Her characters have a lot of depth and are all flawed. There's no cardboard cutouts here. Lilly is a compelling protagonist, but some of her reaction to the assault is real and not very heroic, frankly. Too many writers ignore the consequences of actions in their books. Jordyn shows Lilly's struggles to accept what has happened. This part of the book isn't easy reading, but it is realistic and handled well. It dovetails with the plot and sets up consequences that drive a lot of the story along.

I'm in medicine myself, so I don't know if the medical description is too technical for the average reader, but it is all very believable and plausible. I didn't stumble over anything in this aspect of the book.

It is very strong for a debut author. I could nitpick about repetitive imagery that occasionally pops up, but it is weak criticism at best, and it shows that Jordyn has a natural affinity for the medical suspense genre. Any fan of thrillers or adrenaline-laced fiction will enjoy this read. I'm excited for what comes next in the series, as it is apparently part of a trilogy. Oh, and if you're an author, her medical blog Redwood's Medical Edge is a great resource to get answers to your medical questions.

Do you like fiction with a medical edge? Are there writers in the medical thriller niche you can recommend as well?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Got Body?

My mom had her share of corny jokes.

One of her favorites was, "Do you want to hear my ghost song?" Then she would sing the first couple lines from the song, "I Ain't Got Nobody." No. Body. Get it. Never mind.

Well, I think in the body of Christ we act too often as if we "ain't got no body." In that, we don't let the body do what it needs to do.

Our little Outreach Saga in the park has been going for about 7-8 weeks now. When we first started, we concentrated on building some relationship and gaining the trust of the people. We shared Jesus when we could, whether through conversation or deeds. The last few weeks we have transitioned to having a little more organized Bible study together.

Now, "organized" has a different meaning for what we've been doing relative to most people. In this case, it means we gather in a circle and start with reading a Bible story or a few verses. Then we have discussion. That part has lasted about 1.5 hours the last two weeks. No agenda or specific sermon to go through. We're opening it up to questions and sharing from our hearts.

The awesome thing about this is that we're seeing our group be the Body of Christ. I'm kind of the leader of our study time, since I have a big mouth and am not afraid to get the ball rolling. The problem is that I don't necessarily have all the answers for the questions we're getting.

Last night several people shared. People from the park have questions but also chime in with thoughts. Others from our original fellowship stepped up with their testimonies and words at the proper times.

I've had some great opportunities to go to a wonderful Bible study program, to teach and use my gifts in the past. This doesn't mean I have it all figured out, or have the right words for every situation. Far from it!

I was so blessed last night to have others willing and able to share and use their gifts and testimony to touch others. I needed them. I couldn't do it myself (not that I would ever want to!).

More and more in our Outreach Saga I'm seeing the wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Jesus created us as a body for a reason. We need each other. Don't be afraid to use your gifts from God. He gave them to you for a reason - to be shared with others.
If anyone has questions about what this whole Outreach Saga is, feel free to let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them. It's an interesting journey so far!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

CFBA Tour - Rare Earth

A long time ago, in a blogosphere not so far away, I reviewed books for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. I haven't done so for a while, mostly due to trying to get my own writing done, but also because I was waiting for a book to really catch my attention.

Author Davis Bunn has done that with his latest book, Rare Earth.

Marc Royce is a fixer. A former intelligence agent who works for the government in scenarios that need subtlety and finesse, he is a man who fights the good fight to help others and to quell his own pain.

He is sent on assignment to Kenya, an east African country that had slid into crisis in recent years. A refugee camp is overwhelmed with people displaced due to a local volcanic eruption. The situation is volatile - there is little oversight, goods being withheld, and a population growing desperate by the hour.

As Marc lands and begins to grapple with the immediate problem, he is drawn to Kitra, a beautiful Israeli nurse who holds a secret and a grudge toward his cover company. The camp pastor Charles is Marc's only ally as he navigates tribal chiefs, political intrigue, and power brokers. When more villagers are displaced by government order, the region is primed to explode over something called "rare earth."

Marc has steep challenges before him: find the mystery of rare earth and Kitra's missing brother before he is the next victim.

I didn't realize when I ordered the book that I had read one of Bunn's earliest novels in the 1990s (so long ago now...). I was excited to read some of his newer work, and I was not disappointed.

Rare Earth is a suspense/action book with heart. Marc Royce is one of those heroes who is well-trained and knows how to respond in every situation. Even though he is special, he doesn't come across as a cardboard character. I felt Marc's doubts and hurts, and it provided real depth. Still, I enjoyed how he tackled situations and did what was necessary, including kicking some butt at times.

The plot is very current and deals with real world situations regarding rare earth and the phenomena of people being displaced for their land or resources. There was one too many meetings between power brokers (tribal chiefs, other councils) that got a little repetitive, but I always wanted to keep turning the page and reading more.

The faith element of the book is very well-handled and organic to the story. There is no preachiness, but spiritual life is realistically depicted, and this is a book anyone could enjoy.

The CBA market is developing more writers and books outside of the Amish/historical/romance genres over time. Davis Bunn has actually been around for a while, and even though I lost track of his works for a while, I will be eagerly watching for his new material after enjoying Rare Earth. Fans of action and suspense should definitely check him out.
Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes, without obligation for a positive review. I just like it anyway.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A Missional Question

Today I'm participating in a challenge from Frank Viola:

The following exercise is from the synchroblog from Frank Viola's post Gospel for the Middle

Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.

Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.

Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.

Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.

Recently Fielding asked this question:

When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.

Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

This is a tricky one. By American standards, we would have trouble reaching Fielding and Felicia. We can't easily pawn them off on someone else, and we can't just hand them a book.
If I were the cousin I would suggest to Fielding that if he is going to read anything, he spend time in the Bible. He doesn't have to read a lot at once, but he should read it with Felicia every day. They can talk about what they read and pray about it. I would encourage Fielding to look at God's glory in creation. I would tell him that we are God's building, and that He wants to build us together as His temple, not as a physical building, but a house made of people.
As the cousin I would need to take a more active role in reaching out in between visits, making sure I prayed for them and helped with questions and discipleship as much as possible.
I would explain to Fielding that God speaks to His people, and that every believer has the Holy Spirit. I would explain from John that the Spirit leads us into all truth and reveals the Son, and that they can grow in this way.
I recently read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, and he talks about how the church expanded in the first couple of centuries after Christ, and how the Chinese church grew exponentially after all foreigners were expelled and Christian leaders jailed or killed under Mao. Despite the lack all the things Americans consider essential to church growth, these churches thrived. I think if the cousin takes the time to offer support and helps Fielding and Felicia recognize that they have the basics - the Bible and the Spirit, that they can grow and thrive in their environment.
That's my thoughts on this problem. What would you say in this situation? How would you help Fielding and Felicia in their walk?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Why Do We Need Heroes?

My Greatest Hits day 3 - my most read post:

And are there any heroes for us today?

Why do we have an innate attraction to the ideas of heroes? We ask people who their heroes are. Kids and adults both delight at the stories of superheroes, people with extraordinary powers who seem to save the world again and again. We always like it when a regular person makes good: the local hero who saves someone. Every story needs a hero, doesn't it?

Our collective imagination seems drawn to the idea of people who have a greater power or call. A look at the top box office of all time for the US and worldwide shows the list dominated by familiar names: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, Jack Sparrow. All of these stories feature larger than life figures who overcome overwhelming odds to triumph.

I've always day-dreamed of some cataclysm happening in my regular life, only to find that I could fly, had super something-or-other in order to save those in peril. It's in the fabric of who I am. I grew up on Star Wars and Super Friends, and this summer I couldn't wait until the latest Spiderman movie came out. Recently I've gotten back into enjoying comic books, which shows different aspects of heroes from when I was growing up. Nowadays these heroes struggle against inner darkness or temptation and deal with more real life scenarios over the classic comics when Superman never doubted what was right and was always there to save Lois Lane.

I know that some people prefer down to earth heroes in their entertainment - the cop, the spunky Nancy Drew type, people who don't have a special ability. Others may even prefer the "anti-hero", the character that may otherwise be very unlikable in a story, but is portrayed from a sympathetic viewpoint. However, in general we are drawn to those who are greater than us in both their abilities and trials. I could go on, reaching back to mythology and stories of Hercules, Achilles, and so on, but I think this point is coming across.

Having made the argument that this desire is there, now we may ask "Why is it there?"

Could it be, perhaps, that it speaks to who we are? Does it draw from our deepest heart and unconscious needs?

I would argue that heroes are so compelling because we need a hero. We realize, whether directly or subconsciously, that we cannot overcome all that we encounter on our own. Try as we might, we are not able to complete our own salvation. We may fight valiantly, but our struggle is ultimately doomed against the supreme villain.

In the end, this attraction to heroes points us to the one who fought evil without ever turning to temptation. He went toe-to-toe with our greatest foe on our behalf. He sacrificed himself in defending truth, justice, and mercy. And when all seemed lost, he rose in even greater power and strength for the ultimate victory.

Jesus is my hero.

The book that inspired this post - Fearless by Robin Parrish - may not be an overtly Christian novel. This is fine with me, as I don't require every story to have an overt religious element in order to be a good story. I think Robin taps into this intrinsic need for a hero with his story. I can't allegorize what he's written, partly because that's not his intention, and I don't know how the story will work out. It still speaks of this great human conflict, the desire to rise up over the insurmountable odds. The heart of the gospel speaks to this, and that's what makes heroes a powerful story element, especially to a Christian writer.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Short Story - "Batgirl"

Day 2 of My Greatest Hits - my goofy short story "Batgirl"

I must have been desperate.

Even though no one could see my green tights and pointy shoes in the beat-up minivan, I still felt like dying every time I passed a car. My jacket camouflaged my upper body, but I knew how dorky I looked underneath.

My cousin Matt was so excited when he called three weeks ago. “Dude, I won tickets to the San Diego/Dallas game at the new Cowboys Stadium in December. Dad said I could take you if you can get down here.”

No way!

I'd been a Cowboys fan since I was five years old, and I'd been waiting to see a game there as long as I can remember. After twelve years, I wasn't going to miss this game.

Then reality landed.

My folks would let me go, but there was no money in the budget for a plane ticket. If I could earn the money, then it was a deal.

Too bad I'd blown all my summer lawn mowing money on a new MP3 player. I guess I could listen to the game...

No big. I'd get a job. Fall meant no more lawn jobs, but I'd do anything for the cash.

If there was anything.

I hit every place in town over the next two and a half weeks. No one was hiring, at least not a teenager. With the bad economy, too many people hunted for a paycheck.

Time ticked away. Halftime to the game, and I had nothing. I considered panhandling, but “Will work for a ticket to Dallas” probably wasn't the best tactic.

Trudging through the mall after another rejection, I stumbled across a new store needing help. Their busy season loomed, and the manager wanted me to start right away.


Except for the uniform.


I pulled into the Grand View Mall, wishing for a handicap permit to dash in with the least amount of people staring and laughing. Instead I wandered up and down the aisles for ten minutes, looking for a close spot. No such luck. I swear this grandma pulled a “Tokyo Drift” move on me to hustle me out of the best spot left.

I parked at the end of a row.

Should I walk cool and confident or sprint in and draw more attention? I ended up with an awkward jog, then slow, speed up, slow down, that only magnified my loser status. I know Granny Speed Racer even pointed me out.

At least I was finally here. Yeah, people snickered walking by me, and I still felt like a freak, but it made sense when I walked into the Boo House, the temporary Halloween store. Where the required uniform was some type of costume.

The source of my embarrassment.

Being penniless, I didn't have money to buy something in the store, even with my 5% discount. The manager, (dressed as the Hulk), needed me the next day, leaving no time to hit a thrift store. I sped home, hoping the deep dark recesses of storage would hide a cool surprise.

Rather than a cruel disguise.

Dad had an ensemble wardrobe of polos and khakis, so he was no help. The younger siblings had mini Star Wars stuff. The Force was not with them. But good ol' Mom and her theatre days...


My boss (now as Frankenstein) showed me the break room. Time to doff my jacket, revealing the rest of my gruesome ensemble. I put on my pointy hat, adjusted my belt and dagger, and prepared to brave the crowds.

The game better be worth it.

Frankenstein showed me the cash register and gave a quick tour. Fake weapons there, masks behind the counter. Blood, gore, and makeup on aisle 13. Except – they were all aisle 13. Lots of goodies to make any Halloween creepy or goofy.

The first half hour passed uneventfully. I seemed to blend in – no one laughed in my face at least. I wondered for the hundredth time how women could stand wearing tights. Or superheroes for that matter. I felt so exposed.

I kept busy cleaning up after kids trying out the props and leaving swords and guns everywhere. Helped me learn the layout quickly. Besides Franky, another employee stood by the cash register filing her nails. Blood red nails. I didn't think they were fake, and I wondered if she only looked like a vampire today or if she dressed that way all the time. She fit in here at least.

I bent over to pick up a dismembered hand when I heard a musical voice behind me. “Let me guess, you're looking for your shadow.”

Not my best side showing. I wheeled up and around.

Holy fireworks Batman!

I mean, Batgirl. I faced an angel in black vinyl. Her blonde hair cascaded onto her cape, while pools of azure peered out from her mask. Her spiky-heeled boots elevated her petite frame to almost eye-level with me. I felt a huge grin spread on my face as I noted her soft cherry-scented lips smiling at me.

I wanted to say something witty and charming. I think I stared dumbly and drooled.

She giggled. I melted.

“I hope you're the new guy. If you dress like that all the time, I'm in trouble.”

“Why would you be in trouble?”

“Because you look better in tights than me!” She laughed again as my face flashed crimson at record speed. Gotta recover.

“So you're, uh, Batgirl?”

She glanced around slyly. “Smart AND a snappy dresser. Frank knows how to pick 'em.”

Breathe. Stay cool. “Are you Stephanie then?”

Now she looked puzzled. “I'm not Stephanie. My name is...”

“Oh, my mistake. Since you're blonde, I thought you were the new Batgirl, Stephanie Brown. Of course, the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was a redhead. But I'm sure you knew that.”

Another confused look. “Actually I didn't know that. I just thought it was cute.”

Way to go, geek! “Oh, you're very cute. You don't even need red hair, and, um...”

Mayday. Going down in flames here.

She grinned. “I'd better go check in. Catch you later in Neverland.”

She headed for the back, her skirt sashaying all the way. I wanted to gaze at her forever, but I caught an irate Frankenstein in my peripheral vision. Time to get to work.


I think the crowds followed her in. I could barely get a glance at her between bratty kids and haggard moms. Vampire girl just stayed at the cash register and glowered. Frank kept stocking new merchandise, so Batgirl and I did the customer service and clean up.

I tried to act nonchalant, but the leggings starting to chafe made it harder each minute. I'd bide my time, find the right moment. Hopefully one without a wedgie.

The right moment would be after my buddy Goose left.

He bobbed a head above the crowds. I couldn't miss him. I didn't need him here.

“Dude, what's with the...”

“Don't! Just, don't go there.”

“Okay man, chill. So how's the working man?”

“You know,” I looked at the last item I'd picked up. “Gotta keep up with the bloody chainsaws.”

“Dude, who's that superchick over there?”

What was her name? I can't believe my nerd breakout cut her off from giving it to me. Brilliant.

“You think I'm going to tell you? You'll just blab about some embarrassing moment.”

Goose thought about it. “Like the time you choked on the communion wafer at church?”

“Exactly. Now go look for a costume. The manager doesn't seem to like me talking.” And if I'm going to be talking, I want it to be with her.

“Okay, I'll let you get back to...” he looked at my get-up one more time, “work.”

I heard him muttering something about a pirate hook hand on his way to the food court. Finally, I could work my way over to Batgirl. I had to at least get her name! Now, where was she?

I turned around and saw her in the Star Wars section as an unhappy looking patron turned from her and stomped toward the monster manager.

I had a bad feeling about this.

Two rambunctious kids dueled with lightsabers by me. I chased away the padawans and took the toy weapons over toward Batgirl as the woman returned with our boss.

“This is the rude girl. I can't believe what she said to me!”

Frank's green lips frowned. “What did you tell her?”

Bat's eyes filled her mask holes. “She asked me where our Star Wars stuff was, and when I brought her here, she wanted to know the sizes we had in the Slave Leia outfits.”

The woman cut her off. “She said I was too fat for it, to not bother with trying it.”

The image of this lady in a metal bikini shivered my spine.

“I didn't say that! I suggested that it might not fit and recommended an alternative.”

“It came across that I was fat. My boyfriend wanted me in the slave outfit, not Leia's stupid white gown. Now our Halloween will be ruined!”

The discontented customer wailed loudly at this, as Batgirl looked dumbfounded at the accusation. Frankenstein stood with an expectant glare. I thought he was going to blow his fake bolts off.

“Do you have something to say?”

“I'm sorry she's upset, but I didn't mean to insult her. I was trying to help.”

“You know this is the second complaint I've had this week.”

“That lady was going to let her little boy be Freddy Krueger! All I said was I didn't think that was a good idea.”

My hands shook the lightsabers as I watched the back and forth. I couldn't believe the scene developing.

“If you're going to insult my customers, maybe you don't need to work here.”

Her bottom lip trembled a little as she responded. “Mr. Stein, I am not trying to insult anyone, but I am not going to lie about things. I have to be true to who I am.”

Was his name really Stein?

Not important. Frank huffed at her strong words for a moment, struggling for an answer. The wanna-be Leia goaded him. “If this type of miscreant is working here, I'll take my business elsewhere.”

“I'm afraid you'll have to be true somewhere else. Get your things, clock out, and go home. You're fired.”

Her jaw dropped. “But Mr. Stein, I don't have a ride until the mall closes today. Can't we all calm down and talk about this?”

“No, I can't lose business in this economy. You'll have to find somewhere in the mall to wait, I guess.”

“Dressed like this?” she asked with a quivering voice.

“Not my problem.”

She burst into full blown tears walking to the back room for her things. I didn't realize I was standing there slack-jawed, but Frankenstein turned his anger toward me. “I don't think this concerns you. Get back to work.”

I turned to put the sabers back when Batgirl came out of the back, still crying. She had her mask off, but even with red, puffy eyes she still radiated a beauty and a strength. I couldn't believe Frankenstein was such a monster.

My chance with this angel was walking out the door. A split-second decision.

“Wait up...Batgirl! I'll give you a ride home.”

Frank glowered at me. “If you leave, don't bother coming back.”

She looked at me, hopeful.

The game?

Or the girl?

“Let me get my jacket.”

I ran to the break room and back out as fast as I could manage in my outfit. Frankenstein stomped a boot as I ran past, shouting that I must not have needed the money that badly.

No, I just had a new priority. Goodbye football game.

“Hello Batgirl.”


Monday, July 02, 2012

Spoiled For The Ordinary

Day 1 of My Greatest Hits

I've been waiting for a while to discuss the name of my blog: Spoiled for the Ordinary. What on earth does that mean? I can imagine that it sounds fairly strange. Sounds like a little kid who is terribly picky, doesn't it?

"Spoiled for the ordinary" was a phrase I first heard and experienced when I was with Youth With a Mission (YWAM). I went to their Discipleship Training School at their base in Lakeside, Montana when I was 18. I spent 3 months in Montana learning about who God is and what He is all about. I learned about His character and ways. I was with a group of 30+ people: men, women, singles, families, kids, and couples. Then we split into two teams and went on a 2 month outreach. My group went to Thailand, and the other group went to Taiwan.

These 5 months changed my life. I went there as an insecure boy, and left a renewed man. More than ever, my focus was on God's will for my life and being a disciple every day, with a special interest in reaching people for Him. I experienced a world greater than my own little niche, and saw the great need of people outside of America, and how blessed and over-indulged we are here.

YWAM was an awesome opportunity, and I would never trade it for anything else. However, to be spoiled for the ordinary, one does not specifically attend one of their numerous schools and outreachs (although it would be incredible if you could). Any program or time where you can spend devoted to God's purposes for an extended period of time ought to give a similar result.

The reason I was spoiled for the ordinary was that I walked with God every day. He wasn't someone I thought about only in a 15 minute devotion in the morning, or on a Sunday at church. He was real and alive to me. More than that, I depended on Him, along with my teammates, in making it through the day. We had a plan when we got to Thailand, but we quickly learned to follow His plan.

We depended on Him for guidance and provision. Half of my team did not have the funds 2 weeks before we left. All but one received the necessary funds and were able to make the trip. The one left behind? He joined us in 3 days, having his own particular journey with God that touched him where he needed it. We realized that life is an adventure in faith that Jesus calls us too. He says that He only does what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19). We can do the same thing: listen to God each day and go where He directs us.

After living like this, "ordinary" life won't do. Sure, I have to go to work, pay bills, and have dental work done. But I know that there is so much more to this life. We can live this adventure. Once you've tasted God, REALLY walked with Him and see Him move on your behalf to provide, open doors, keep you safe, and make you victorious, then you won't want to live any other life. You walk in the same physical realm as everyone else, but you see another world as well. Your desire is to make that your reality.

You've been spoiled. Ruined for the ordinary.